The Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia's only aircraft carrier, may be a rusting hulk, but its first combat deployment makes a lot of economic sense for the Kremlin.”>

Twenty-six years after Russias only aircraft carrier entered service, she is reportedly heading into combat for the very first timein Syria.

The general staff has prepared a plan for involvement of the deck aircraft in delivering ten-strikes on terrorist groups in the Syrian Arab Republic, an unnamed diplomatic source told the state-owned news agency TASS. With the flattop Admiral Kuznetsov holding station in the Mediterranean Sea, crews will practise taking off the carrier to deliver ten-strikes on ground targets.

The deployment is reportedly scheduled to begin in October and last up to four months.

Prepare to be underwhelmed. Kuznetsov is too small, too unreliable, and her 15 fighter jets too lacking in flying range, weapons, and sensors to make a meaningful contribution to Russias nine-month-old intervention in Syria.

Indeed, Russias very first carrier air strikes will be mostly for showalthough, to be fair, they could also benefit the flattops long-suffering crew. The thousand-foot-long Kuznetsov is rusty, leaky, and prone to gasoline spills and fatal accidents. She rarely sails from her home port in northern Russia and, as a consequence, her crew struggles to maintain seagoing proficiency.

I think this is really merely an opportunity for Russia to demonstrate the relevance of its relatively small and aging carrier aviation abilities while also devoting their crews the opportunity to practice and enhance their skills in a combat surrounding, Eric Wertheim, an independent naval expert and the author of Combat Fleets of the World , told The Daily Beast via email. I think theyre using the Syrian operations as an opportunity to do just that for many of their previously neglected naval forces.

Although shes the flagship of the Russian fleet, Kuznetsov is hardly Moscows most powerful warshipan honorific that probably belongs to one of the Russias new nuclear-powered submarines or missile-armed atomic cruisers.

The U.S. Navyby far the worlds leading naval aviation poweroperates 10 big, nuclear-powered Nimitz -class carriers and nine smaller, carrier-like amphibious assault ships, and can simultaneously deploy several of the vessels to combat zones, with each ship remaining at sea for six months or more at a time.

This summer, the Americans sent two large carriers and an assault ship to strike ISIS activists in Iraq and Syria. Each big U.S. flattop sails with an air wing of 60 or more aircrafts, including more than 40 F/ -A1 8 fighters. A large American carrier can launch more than 100 air raids a day, with every fighter carrying multiple smart bomb, each of which canin theorystrike a different target.

Russia has just the one carrier. Her deployments are less frequent and shorter than U.S. vessels areand so are the missions her airplanes are capable of undertaking. I bet they dont put up 50 sorties in any 24 -hour period, Jerry Hendrix, a former U.S. Navy strategist who is now an analyst with the Center for a New American Security think tank in Washington , D.C ., said of the Russians.

Kuznetsov s fighters carry largely unguided dumb bombs that absence the precision of their U.S. counterparts. Equally problematic, the Russian carrier doesnt have the propels that, on big U.S. carriers, help to boost airliners into the air with heavy loads of gasoline and weapons. As a repercussion, the Russian ships Su-3 3 and MiG-2 9 fighters carry partial ga loadings and just a few weapons when they take off.

The Kremlin is clearly aware of Kuznetsov s limitationsand reportedly has plans to partly mitigate them. The ship will remain close to the Syrian coast so that the deck aircraft have enough gasoline to complete the military chores and return back, the anonymous official told TASS.

Still, Kuznetsov and her 15 airplanes is likely to be construct much difference in Russias air war in Syrianot as long as Moscows land-based airliners are so much more capable of sustaining intensive air operations. In October, the Kremlin deployed around three dozen warplanes to Khmeimim air base in Latakia, in western Syria. Boosted by long-range bombers flying directly from Russia, those airplanes have conducted thousands of air strikes targeting rebel forces-out and civilians in rebel-held areas.

Kuznetsov has never performed a land strike role, and it doesnt make any sense to utilize[ her] that style, considering the availability of the Latakia air base, Maxim Shepovalenko, a retired Russian navy captain who is now the deputy director of the Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow, told The Daily Beast. Just compare the tonnage, stores, and air-wing strength of a Nimitz -class and those of Kuznetsov . No match.

As pointless as the carrier deployment might be from a military standpoint, it actually makes a lot of economic sense. Naval shipbuilding is big business in Russia, but the countrys dilapidated shipyards have earned a reputation for producing crappy aircraft carrier and equally crappy carrier-launched planes.

Just ask the Indian, who ordered a refurbished flattop from a Russian yard back in 2004. The carrier Vikramaditya arrived years late and billions of dollars over-budget, and on her first journey in 2013 suffered a devastating engine failing. India has been buying MiG-2 9 fighters to fly from Vikramaditya , and Russia is keen to extend that deal. If it appears successful , Kuznetsov s Syria deployment could lure the Indians into buying more MiGs, Shepovalenko said.

Another customer of Russian carriers is likely to pay close attention to Kuznetsov s war debut. In 2011, China commissioned into service an upgraded transcript of Kuznetsov named Lioaning . Shes Chinas first and so far only flattop. Shes ever seen combat, either. And if Kuznetsov can pull off her inaugural wartime mission without major embarrassment, perhaps Lioaning can, too.

— with additional reporting by Matthew Bodner

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